Recently I’ve been thinking about dialect. This could be the half-Irish blood in my veins, my Minnesotan husband’s influence, or the combination of accents one can find here in Virginia’s capital city. It all started when I said “crawdaddy” to my husband, and suddenly I realized not everyone calls a crawfish by its slightly different moniker.
To evaluate the wide breadth of dialect in an informal way, I took to the Twitterverse and sent out a few inquiries about dialect over the last month. The answers were surprising, interesting, and often amusing. Using Twitter is not the perfect science for a focus group due to clusters of followers based on my geographical location, age group, etc. I understand that, but am only using this data (for the time being) informally.
Some of what I learned is represented below. Enjoy! And please leave your own dialect versions in the comments; I’d love to hear more!
Test 1: “Crayfish/Crawfish/Crawdad”
Via dictionary.com: “Also called crawdad, crawdaddy, any freshwater decapod crustacean of the genera Astacus and Cambarus, closely related to but smaller than the lobsters.”
Again, although this isn’t a perfect science, the results of my first dialect test were very interesting. “Crawdad” (I’m of this camp, too, since “crawdaddy” is a version), is most popular in southern states. “Crawfish” is represented in Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia as well as California; “Crayfish” is predominately used in northern states. Click here to view my Batch Geo map. Note: locations with the same city/state are clustered.
Test 2: “Semi/18-Wheeler/Tractor Trailer”
I grew up referring to the huge trucks on I-81 as “18-wheelers.” It wasn’t until I heard “semi” in a movie that I discovered other names for these huge trucks.
As you can see, “Semi” (although poorly represented with responses) is mostly northern, with “18 Wheeler” focused in the south. I’d like to see more responses from the west coast and mid-west to see differences. Click here to view my Batch Geo map. Note: locations with the same city/state are clustered.
Test 3: “Lightning Bug/Firefly”
Every summer I’d poke holes in the top of a mason jar and try to catch “lightning bugs” in my backyard. Every summer they would be angry and eventually escape or die. That morbidity aside, their name was always “lightning bug” to me.
The answers to this test were the most interesting to me based on their clusters. As with the other maps, answers from the same city are combined on Google Maps. However, looking a bit larger, you’ll see that most states (with the exception of Virginia, shocking!) use the same term for lightning bugs/fireflies. And this time there isn’t a distinct north/south border for usage. Click here to view my Batch Geo map.
Why did I spend my time asking questions and creating maps? Dialect is interesting and important to the history and regional identities of our country. People can live within miles of each other and have completely different words for the same item; that’s fascinating to me.
At some point I’d like to turn this into a wider, more encompassing study. Until then I’m planning to keep asking questions and updating maps with answers. Please play along and contribute your answers on Twitter or in the comments below.